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How to celebrate Christmas like the French!

November 19, 2010 2:58 pm
posted by Rebecca

Speak to any of our Gallic cousins and you’ll be told that Christmas is a very different affair in France.  It’s all about the family and food.  Sound a little too much like Christmas à l’Anglaise?  Well there’s plenty more to drive home la difference.  Here’s our guide to how to celebrate Christmas like the French.

And if you need further convincing, book yourself a trip across the Channel for a truly Joyeux Noël.

  • Write To Santa

In France, Father Christmas is known as Père Noël or Papa Noël.  He isn’t big and plump and ruddy but a tall, slim chap.  In the east of the country he’s likely to be accompanied by Père Fouettard who keeps a tally of just who’s been naughty or nice, dolling out a spanking to those not deserving of gifts.

The French take Santa very seriously – a law was passed in 1962 decreeing that anyone writing to Père Noël must receive a reply.

The question of when to give presents is a potential hurdle to the uninitiated.   Most provinces in France celebrate Christmas day on 25th December, but in Eastern and Northern France the season begins on 6th December on La Fête de Saint Nicolas, when children receive small gifts and sweets. There are other regional variations, such as the Fête de Lumières in Lyons on 8th December.  Many adults don’t exchange gifts until New Year’s Eve or even New Year’s Day.

And rather than stockings hung by the fire, French children leave their sabots or shoes out on Christmas Eve (you’ve got to hope you’re a size 9 rather than 6!).

  • Deck The Halls

Despite laying claim to the invention of the Christmas tree – originating in Strasbourg in 1605 – the French don’t invest as much significance in the festively decorated fir as the Brits.  (If you do opt for a tree, don’t forget your tasteful red ribbons.)  And whilst mistletoe is often hung above the door for good luck, the main decorative focus is the crèche or the equivalent of our nativity scene.   Filled with wooden or clay figurines of santos or saints, the crèche features in many French homes and churches.  Living crèches are common, in the form of plays and puppet shows, and a tradition has grown up in the south of France for craftsmen to make the figures year round – legend tells that the moulds have been passed from generation to generation since the seventeenth century.  Don’t be surprised to see random characters such as local dignitaries, butchers, bakers and policemen.

  • Fatten Up The Turkey

Unlike in the UK where Christmas day dinner is the main event, in France the tradition is to celebrate le Réveillon (traditionally after midnight mass) on Christmas Eve.  Confusingly many French also mark le Réveillon on New Year’s Eve, often going out with friends or enjoying a variant of the Christmas menu at home.  If you’re planning on spending New Year in France it pays to book your preferred restaurant early if you want to usher in the New Year with a meal out.

The menu various from region to region, but common attributes will be special-occasion foods served over multiple courses.   Typical dishes include:

  • Goose in Alsace
  • Turkey in Burgandy
  • Oysters and foie gras in Paris

To truly follow form the meal should include an aperitif such as Kir Royale, canapés, entree, a plat principal or main course (preferably stuffed with chestnuts), and dessert.  The is one course the French all agree on, the chocolate Yule log, or Buche de Noel (not to be confused with the actual Yule log which is made out of cherry wood and sprinkled with red wine to make it smell nice when burning).

Other festive culinary – or quaffing – highlights include Beaujolias Nouveau.  The new wine is re-released on the third Thursday of November and, never a wine to hang around, tradition holds that the entire stock has to be consumed by New Year.

It’s not all about the meal on Christmas Eve – La Galette des Rois is an almond cake baked to celebrate the Fête des Rois on January 6th, the twelfth day of Christmas.  The cake has a charm or toy crown inside and whoever finds it is dubbed King or Queen for the day.

  • Silent Night

Aaand relax.  Christmas Day in France is typically a quiet affair, time for the family to come together and relax.  Without the emphasis being all on the one day, December 25th is just one chapter in the yuletide celebrations.  Time to recharge before the big New Year event!

  • A French Carol – Un Chant de Noël Français

‘Vive le Vent’( Jingle Bells)

Vive le vent, vive le vent, vive le vent d’hiver

Qui s’en va, sifflant, soufflant

Dans les grands sapins verts, Oh !

Vive le temps, vive le temps, vive le temps d’hiver

Qui rappelle aux vieux enfants

Leurs souvenirs d’hier !

Sur le long chemin

Tout blanc de neige blanche

Un vieux monsieur s’avance

Avec sa canne dans la main

Et tout là-haut le vent

Qui siffle dans les branches

Lui souffle la romance qu’il chantait petit enfant


Christmas Holidays in FranceDo it Style!

  • Christmas in The Alps

5* Premium Les Crets in Meribel stands above the resort and enjoys uninterrupted views over the Tueda lake and the ski area. The building, in typical Savoie style, has undergone major renovation: apartments have been enlarged and redecorated in warm colours, and top-of-the-range furnishings and equipment installed.

Accommodation for 4 people sharing for one week starts at €1490 during the Christmas period.

  • Christmas accommodation in the Cote d’Azur

4* Pont Royal Holiday Resort offers small residences no taller than 2 floors with views of the lake, golf course or surrounding hills. The apartments are near shops and activities. The houses are on the edge of the village. Most of the Provencal farmhouses are on the edge of the golf course.

Accommodation for 4 people sharing for one week starts at €2373 during the Christmas period.

  • Christmas in Paris

Adagio Paris La Defense Le Parc, located in the Faubourg de l’Arche district, this new 12-storey architecturally modern residence with rounded lines offers conformable air-conditioned apartments, most of which open onto terraces or balconies. Facing a 1-hectare landscaped park, it is also close the shopping and business centre of La Défense.

Accommodation for 4 people sharing for one week starts at €1211 during the Christmas period.

Check the Pierre & Vacances website for it’s amazing  two nights for free Christmas ski offer!